by Alison Bonaguro
It’s been about a decade since Chase Rice helped Florida Georgia Line pen their breakout hit, “Cruise.” But his friendship with the duo’s Brian Kelley goes way, way back. All the way to when they were little kids growing up together in Florida.
And now Rice has teamed up with FGL again for a collaboration on his brand new single “Drinkin’ Beer. Talkin’ God. Amen.” Rice wrote the song with Cale Dodds, Hunter Phelps, Corey Crowder, and FGL’s Kelley and Tyler Hubbard lent their vocals to it.
When I had the chance to talk to Rice about the new song, I wanted to start at the very beginning. Like how he even got to know Kelley and Hubbard in the first place.
“Brian and I grew up together in Florida. We played Little League baseball together. We were buddies,” Rice told me. “Then when I was 11, I moved to North Carolina. And then randomly, about five years later, his family decided to visit us up in North Carolina. They got a cabin near where we lived, and we just all got back together. So Brian and I became real good friends then. We got closer, we stayed in touch, and I visited him in Florida a few times. And he was just starting to teach himself how to play guitar.
“So when I was in college, I was inspired by him and I got my first guitar. I was pretty awful. But I stuck with it and kept learning. Sophomore year, I got a little better at guitar. Junior year, I got hurt and lost the whole football season, so I got even better at guitar. And when I was a senior, my dad passed away and I wrote my first song about him, called ’Larger Than Life.’”
CMT.com: For a first song, that sounds like a really good one. Would you agree?
Rice: Maybe, but it’s because Brian helped me finish that song. And that’s when I first realized that he definitely had something special. Then after college, when I was working for NASCAR, I was suspended for two weeks for fighting. So I spent those two weeks in Nashville visiting Brian and getting to know Tyler. They were writing a lot together, and while I was there the three of us did a writers’ round at the Hotel Indigo. That was my first time singing in Nashville.
Then were you hooked?
Yes. From that trip alone, I knew I wanted to move to Nashville. I visited again in 2010 and I remember us sitting at the Tin Roof on Demonbreun, and Brian and Tyler’s roommate had just moved out, so we decided that I would move in. Just knowing we wanted to get after this thing. And right after was when we wrote “Cruise.”
So you just waltzed right into Nashville and wrote a record-breaking hit song right away?
Well it took me a while to learn how to co-write, and Brian and Tyler were already so good at it. But at the time, not too many people were giving us chances, because we were the new guys. But Brian was freaking out when we wrote “Cruise.” None of us ever thought it was gonna do what it’s done.
So he had a gut feeling that it was going to do great things, but you didn’t think it that easy?
Brian came home one day and he was like, “This thing’s huge. It’s blowing up. It’s top 30. It’s gonna go No. 1.” I was like, “Really. It’s that easy?” Then I followed that up with my own single “Ready, Set, Roll” and “Gonna Wanna Tonight” and I was like, “Damn, this is the easiest thing I’ve ever done.” Then I had a falling out with my label, and reality set in. But that forced me to be a better songwriter. It forced me to be a better singer. If you’re the best on the field all the time, you’re never gonna get any better. And I’ve been challenged a lot in the last eight years. All that’s done is make me better.
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So now, nearly ten years after you helped FGL with “Cruise,” you have them on your new song “Drinkin’ Beer. Talkin’ God. Amen.” What made this time the right time for a collaboration?
When we wrote that song, on the back of my tour bus when we were still on the road, we really wanted to write a porch song. And I had the title in my phone as a song idea. Once we figured that out, we wrote the song in like 45 minutes. I was so excited about it. My first thought was to get FGL on it, because we hadn’t done anything since “Cruise” other than just hang out. And if I was going to collaborate, I wanted it to be something special. I didn’t want to do it just because. I wanted to do a song nobody could deny. But I wasn’t gonna push that on them, though, because they’ve got people pulling them a thousand different ways.
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That’s a tough call to get a busy person to add you to their to-do list. How’d you make that ask?
I didn’t even have to. Brian just hit me up one day with, “Dude, how sick would it be if all of us went back into the studio and produced this song together?” And that’s all it was at first. Just producing it. And then out of nowhere, Brian hit me up a few weeks later with, “Dude, I’ll tell you how we take this thing to the next level: how about we do a CR/FGL collab? It could be sick.” I was all in. For my first major collab, I don’t think there’s anybody better on the planet. For us to finally come together ten years after a genre-changing song, it’s really exciting.
Alison makes her living loving country music. She’s based in Chicago, but she’s always leaving her heart in Nashville.